SECAUCUS, N.J.–The first seven picks of the 2013 draft unfolded according to plan. Stanford righthander Mark Appel went No. 1 overall to the Astros—after nearly doing so a year earlier—and each of those seven selections ranked among the top nine players on Baseball America's final draft board.
Then the Royals grabbed Stephen F. Austin State shortstop Hunter Dozier.
Dozier was No. 40 in the final BA rankings, and no prognosticator projected him to go nearly as high as No. 8. The commentators at the main desk during MLB Network's telecast reacted with such shock that the daughter of one Royals official asked her father why the team picked Dozier. Local radio hosts called for the dismissal of Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore and the rest of his front office.
There was a strategic element to the decision, however, and the Royals did get a proven college performer with defensive value. Dozier hit .396 as a junior this spring, ranking third in NCAA Division I (through the regional playoffs) with a .755 slugging percentage and fifth with 25 doubles and 17 homers. Scouts describe the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder as a potential Jeff Kent type in a Drew Stubbs body.
Assuming Kris Bryant (Cubs, No. 2) moves to right field and D.J. Peterson (Mariners, No. 12) winds up at first base, the only higher-rated college left-side infielders in the entire draft were Colin Moran (Marlins, No. 6) and Eric Jagielo (No. 26, Yankees). Dozier likely will move to the hot corner, where he has more power than Moran, as much or more pure hitting ability as Jagielo and significantly more defensive skills than either.
Purely on talent, Dozier was a reach at No. 8. But Kansas City also knew that he wouldn't make it to the club's next pick at No. 34. The Rays would have taken him at No. 21 or 29, and the Diamondbacks might have at No. 15. A handful of other clubs would have considered him in the first round.
The Royals also had other plans for their second choice, the top selection awarded in baseball's inaugural competitive-balance lottery.
Two Captivating Arms
It's no secret Kansas City seeks starting pitching. In the last year, the Royals have spent the No. 5 overall pick in the 2012 draft on Kyle Zimmer, committed $12 million to Ervin Santana and $25 million to Jeremy Guthrie, and traded three of their best prospects to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis.
In this draft, two pitchers in particular intrigued the Royals at No. 8. One was Indiana State lefthander Sean Manaea, who entered the spring in the mix to go No. 1 overall after dominating the Cape Cod League last summer with an explosive mid-90s fastball. The other was California high school righty Phil Bickford, who had as much helium as any prospect in the week before the draft.
Kansas City wasn't comfortable taking either with its top pick, however. Manaea didn't show his Cape stuff this spring while battling ankle and hip injuries, then missed his final start with shoulder stiffness. Bickford had a reported $4.25 million price tag, and his camp would not allow Royals officials to meet with him.
They still had interest in both arms, especially after a medical report released to teams revealed that Manaea had a labrum tear in his hip that is expected to require surgery but had no structural damage in his shoulder. In spite of draft day reports that Kansas City had completed a deal with Bickford, the club ultimately decided taking either him or Manaea at No. 8 represented too much of a gamble.
If negotiations broke down, the Royals would lose $3.1 million of their assigned $8.3 million bonus pool for the first 10 rounds. They'd recoup the No. 9 choice in 2014, but their 2013 draft would take too much of a hit.
So the Royals mitigated their risk by essentially flip-flopping the selections. They would take Dozier at No. 8, a secret they guarded closely, and hope for either Bickford or Manaea at No. 34.
Dozier was better than anyone Kansas City thought it would get in the supplemental first round, and Bickford or Manaea were talents worthy of the No. 8 choice. By taking them in reverse order, the Royals would lose just $1.6 million in pool money if the sandwich-rounder turned them down. They also could add roughly $2 million to the pot at No. 34 by signing Dozier for less than his assigned pick value and by taking discount players in the fifth through 10th rounds.
The gambit was far from foolproof, though. It relied on Bickford or Manaea being available at No. 34—and the Blue Jays quickly chose Bickford at No. 10.
Like Kansas City, however, no other team felt secure enough with Manaea's health and signability to take him in the first round. The Astros and Cubs were lying in wait at the top of the second round, but the Royals dashed those plans.
Kansas City may have landed a frontline lefthander and a solid regular at third base with its first two picks. It just didn't choose them in the order any of us expected.